Journey to Freedom
Volunteer with Elephants
Book Now
Journey to Freedom
Volunteer with Elephants
Book Now
Journey to Freedom
Volunteer with Elephants
Book Now
Journey to Freedom
Volunteer with Elephants
Book Now
Journey to Freedom
Volunteer with Elephants
Book Now
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Elephant Volunteer Program

Volunteer with elephants at Journey to Freedom, an ethical elephant sanctuary project, located  in the remote jungles of Northern Thailand, south of Chiang Mai. Embark on an amazing adventure as part of a small group of volunteers, where you will have the chance to spend an unforgettable week with a herd of elephants, observing them in their natural habitat – socializing with each other, foraging on native plants, and learning about Karen hill tribe culture.

After the 1989 ban on logging, many Karen people felt they had no choice but to lease their elephants to trekking camps where they were often mistreated and overworked giving rides to tourists and performing in shows, eventually resulting in physical and psychological injuries. Journey to Freedom was created to make it possible for the Karen to bring their elephants home to live in the jungle near their village where they can live a more natural existence within a family herd.

Volunteers at Journey to Freedom

As a volunteer, you’ll have the opportunity to positively impact the lives of elephants and people in the local community. Volunteers help to care for the elephants by planting and cutting grass for the herd, preparing medicinal health balls, as well as helping to protect their forest. This program includes daily hikes into the jungle, where you’ll have plenty of time to observe the elephants doing what comes naturally The terrain can be uneven and steep in sections and slippery in the rainy season. A qualified English speaking tour guide will be with you to guide you through the days and provide information about the elephants.

Volunteers also teach English one morning to young children at the local school and work on projects designed to improve the lives of local people. On your final morning, a Buddhist blessing ceremony will be held by the Karen elders to thank volunteers for their participation and support.

By volunteering at Journey to Freedom, you are supporting the shift towards responsible, ethical elephant tourism that is sustainable over the long term and allows for these magnificent elephants to live a more natural life as well as supporting the local Karen people.

Help Support the Herd

Experience the privilege of observing elephants in their jungle habitat where they are most at home and help support the local Karen community

Journey to Freedom Volunteer with Elephants

Volunteer Activities

Volunteer Project Details

Number of Guests: 15
Number of Elephants: 5
Tour Type: One Week Volunteer
Fitness Level: Moderate to Challenging
Age Suitability: Adults 16+

Volunteer Project Price

Adults 16+: 15,000 Baht per week

* Minimum of 4 volunteers required to open the volunteer program *

What's Included

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Reviews from Volunteers

How You are Helping as a Volunteer

Tips on Local Culture & Location

Volunteer Requirements

Volunteers at Journey to Freedom should be reasonably fit and be prepared to hike into the jungle each day during hot humid conditions, along uneven paths that can be steep in sections and quite muddy and slippery, especially in the rainy season. You will also be required to cut grass, prepare food for the elephants, plant saplings in the rainy season, and tie sashes around trees in the dry season to protect the elephant’s natural habitat. The project is located in a remote area, near the jungle where there are many bugs and other animals. Journey to Freedom is suitable for adventure seeking travellers who are prepared to stay in simple rustic accommodation on the edge of the forest and ‘rough it’ a little.

Elephants at Journey to Freedom

Journey to Freedom Volunteers

Volunteering at Journey to Freedom

Thanks to Jennie from Jennie of the Jungle for the photos of her group volunteering at Journey to Freedom in November 2023

Location, Accomodation & Meals

Nature in the Jungle

Ethical Elephant Volunteer Program
This is a small Saddle Off volunteer project with a limited number of guests. Our model is based on ensuring the well-being of the elephants, which means no riding or other unnatural activities.

About Your Volunteer Program

Start: Monday 8:00am – 8:30am – pick up from your hotel in Chiang Mai city and bring you to our office. If you are staying outside the city center you will need to arrange your own transportation to our Chiang Mai office. Volunteers can pay the outstanding balance for your volunteer week, complete an insurance form, and provide a copy of your passport at our office. The minivan will leave to travel to Journey to Freedom between 8:45am – 9:00am.
Travel Time: Around 2.5 – 3 hours (safety talk en route to project).
Transport Details: Transfer from an air-con minivan to a 4WD pickup for the last 20 minutes of your journey to the project.
Return: Arrive back in Chiang Mai city on Sunday afternoon 1:30pm – 2:30pm. We can drop you at your hotel or take you directly to the airport.
Duration: One week only. Volunteer positions start on the Monday and end on Sunday.
Accommodation: Volunteers stay in shared traditional style wooden housing. There are beds in the rooms each with a mattresses under a mosquito net and bedding is provided. One shared room has 6 beds and the other room has 5 beds. One hot water shower, 2 cold water showers and 3 shared toilets are located near the houses. There are 2 traditional style bamboo bungalows at the entrance of the project for couples with a shared bathroom downstairs.  Electrical outlet plugs are available for charging devices in all rooms.
Facilities: Dining area overlooking rice paddies with hammocks, gift shop selling Karen style shirts and traditional pants, coffee & tea, cold water dispenser. Bottled water, soft drinks, and beer are available for purchase at the shop.
Items Provided: Free Journey to Freedom t-shirt, rubber boots, & ponchos in the rainy season.
Baggage / Luggage Allowance: One standard check-in sized rucksack / suitcase / bag & one day pack per person.
What to Bring: Change of clothes for 7 days, long pants and long-sleeve shirts, shorts and t-shirts, gardening gloves, hat, sunscreen, sandals/flip flops, walking shoes or hiking boots, towel, camera, insect repellent, flashlight, toiletries & personal medication.*Bring clothing and items suitable for wet weather if visiting in the rainy season (June – Nov). If visiting in the cool season (Nov – Feb), bring some clothing suitable for cold weather. If you would like to bring items for the local school students (aged 2-5 years old) such as pens, coloring pencils, notebooks, coloring books, story books, A4 paper, games, toys, etc. they will be much appreciated.
Travel Insurance: Volunteers are required to have travel insurance covering medical expenses and emergency repatriation.
Vaccinations: Please contact your doctor or vaccination center in your country for details on recommended vaccinations.
Operational Months: All year round.
Age Suitability: Adults & teenagers over 16 (participants younger than 18 years of age must be accompanied by a legal guardian).
Fitness Level: Moderate to challenging – daily hikes into the jungle, along uneven terrain with some steep sections, which can be in muddy and slippery especially in the rainy season (June – October).
Topography: Jungle, mountains, hills, grassland, rice paddies & stream.
Location: Mae Wang, South of Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.
Nearest Airport: Chiang Mai (CNX) – we recommend you stay in Chiang Mai city the night before your volunteer week begins. Please note that we cannot collect you from Chiang Mai Airport – only from your Chiang Mai city hotel or guesthouse.
Booking Details: Bookings close 3 days before you are due to visit. When booking online, a 30% non-refundable deposit is required to secure your booking. The balance can be paid by cash or credit card (+3%) at our Chiang Mai office on Monday morning – the day that your volunteer week commences. 

Jourey to Freedom Herd

Asian Elephant Projects Shop

Support the herd with a food gift

The Herd at Journey to Freedom During Covid Times

The Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns severely impacted tourism, and there were no volunteers at Journey to Freedom for over two years. During this time, the elephants spent their days in the jungle, foraging on natural vegetation, taking mud baths, cooling off in the stream, and interacting as a herd. With no income from volunteers, it was difficult for this small ethical elephant project to meet the high costs of caring for the elephants, providing them with sufficient food, and paying the mahout’s salaries. Thanks to the generous support of US based NGO, Trunks Up, and all of their generous supporters, Journey to Freedom was able to meet the needs of the elephants and make sure they received a healthy diet as well as the occasional treat of baskets of fruit and vegetables, which the herd always appreciated.

Volunteer Project with Elephants Journey to Freedom

Thank You for Supporting the Herd at Journey to Freedom

The Covid crisis caused severe challenges around the world and placed extreme limitations on travel. As a result, Journey to Freedom was closed from March 2020 and only began to welcome back volunteers in mid 2022. We would like to thank Save Elephant Foundation and Trunks Up for supporting the elephants at our ethical elephant project over the past few years. We are so grateful for your ongoing kind support of the herd.

Book Tu and Air Karen Family from Journey to Freedom

Project Background

The owner of this project Bothu, is a Karen man who grew up around elephants from a young age. He was born in Mae Chaem and grew up learning about elephants from both his grandfather and father who worked with and cared for elephants. The older elephants at the project have been in his family for his entire life. The project is run with the help of Bothu's wife, Air as well as some family from the nearby Karen village. Journey to Freedom is home to 5 female elephants, Non Pong, also known as Mae Bu Sii (born 1982) and her daughter Gee Lee (born 2017), Honey, also known as Mae Yui (born 1990) and her daughter, Buay (born 2010) as well as Boo Jaan (born 1968) the eldest elephant at the project. The 3 older elephants used to do logging and riding in the past and Nong Pon and Honey performed in shows also. The younger elephants Gee Lee and Buay have never worked. Since coming to live at Journey to Freedom the elephants have gained weight, and are much happier and healthier thanks to being able to interact freely as a herd and roam in their natural jungle habitat.

Eco-Friendly

How Journey to Freedom is eco friendly & sustainable

Thank You for Supporting the Herd

at Journey to Freedom
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